Suggestions for Northern Spain and Portugal

I am in the early planning stage of our summer trip. (end of july-beginning of august) i know it will be crowded but no choice. I will have 14 days excluding travel days. We want to go to San Sebastian-Bilbao, Picos de Europa National park, Porto and Lisbon. We will have a car, i am not sure how many days to give to each places, and where is not to miss. We like the outdoors, some museums, some adventures (travelling with a 16 year old).
I would appreciate any help i can get!

Posted by Tom
2876 posts

If you're going to that area, don't miss the great pilgrimage city of Santiago de Compostela. For us, it was the highlight of northern Spain. The cathedral is magnificent, and it's very fun and interesting to watch the pilgrims arriving every day. We also liked the medieval village of Santillana del Mar and the nearby Altamira caves with their prehistoric art. You can't enter the actual caves, but the Spanish government has constructed an exact replica right next to them.

Posted by Brad
Gainesville, VA
7866 posts

One idea: Instead of driving straight from San Sebastian to Bilbao, drive first to Pamplona and follow some of the pilgramage route to Burgos (it's a major road). You can make a stop or two at pilgramage sites and also visit LaGuardia, a wine producing center along the way (I believe they make Rioja, but it may be something else). After Burgos, you can easily head into Bilbao. Pamplona celebrates the San Fermin festival in July (with running of the bulls), so you can either plan for it or plan to avoid it.

Posted by Charlie
Honolulu/Seattle, HI/WA, USA
2092 posts

Do you have RS Spain/Portugal Guide Book yet? If so, great.
If not, you should get it as soon as possible as it has lots of good information that we used when visiting Spain and Portugal. Only real problem we encountered was the fact that the folks in those countries eat dinner in restaurants after 9 PM when most all of the restaurants reopen after an afternoon being closed. Since we go to bed before 9PM it presented a problem. We discovered "Tapas (sp?) Bars" that are always open and serve small plates of food that you can order as many as you like and call it dinner.

Posted by Martine
Ottawa, Canada
580 posts

Thanks for all your suggestions. I do have both Rick Steve's books, but i find the Spain book does not cover a lot o Nothern Spain. I will definetely look into both medieval towns, and we want to visit some wineries, so could do both at the same time. Unfortunatly we will be to late for the running of the bull.
Anyone been to Picos de Europa national park? I appreciated all your help!

Posted by Sharon
2725 posts

We took a Portugal/Northern Spain trip a few years ago. We flew into Madrid and immediately took a bus to Salamanca, picked up a rental car and drove to Coimbra, then to Porto, on to Santiago de Compostella, then Santillana del Mar, a stopover in Bilbao to see the Guggenheim Museum, then on to San Sebastian. We then drove back to Madrid for our return flight. It was a nice trip and not too many more than 14 days. We did not stop at the Picos de Europe National Park however. Our favorite city was Santiago de Compostella. We felt we could have skipped Santillana del Mar (it was off-season.) We didn't see much of Bilbao besides the museum but it looked like an interesting town for a return visit. We averaged 2 nights at each stop - Santiago we stayed 3 and Santillana del Mar we stayed one night. We went to Lisbon on a separate trip where we spent time in Southern Spain and Portugal. Best wishes as you continue your planning!

Posted by Ed
9110 posts

Sorry, I missed the Picos part. It's pretty rugged and desolate with not much access: - - There's a road through the western part that isn't that scenic for the trouble - - If you follow the road south out of Las Arenas (north side, on the road from Cagnas de Onis to Penamellara Baja) there's a funicular that goes into the park as far as Bulnes. Once you get up there you can wander around for a hour or so, have a beer, etc. - - For the very best views, go to just outside of the south park boundary (where the road that cuts through mentioned above is ) and follow a small road that branches to the northeast and dead-ends at Cain. The turn is signed - - I think the route sign says Pasada de Valdeon and there's a brown sign under it pointing in the same direction, but I can't remeber what it says. The drive is a bit less than an hour each way. All of the little towns along the road are interesting, but Cain would be the place to spend the night. I've spent a week a couple of times hiking around there and it's damn exhausting. The weather changes fast and can be treacherous, so don't get to far from shelter.